Ed Parkinson is someone you should know. The affable Irishman with smiling eyes and a "never-known-a-stranger" personality, is also a no-nonsense prosecutor with an appetite for death penalty cases. As one of four Special Prosecutors for the Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Prosecution Division (SAAP), Parkinson is often called upon to assist other prosecutors throughout the state when funds are scarce, special skills are needed, or a conflict of interest arises. With more than 30 murder trials to his credit, Parkinson's expertise is often sought on complex cases or in sensitive trials where the death penalty is under consideration. Recently (February 26, 2004), he played an instrumental role in obtaining the first death penalty verdict in Illinois since former Governor George Ryan emptied death row. Following Parkinson's closing argument, a Coles County jury deliberated only 2 1/2 hours before sentencing Anthony Mertz to death for the 2001 murder of Eastern Illinois University coed Shannon McNamara.
Parkinson was born in Macomb, Illinois, the lone son in a family of five children. He grew up and graduated from high school in Kewanee, Illinois. His parents divorced when he was young and he credits his mother with having the greatest impact on his life. She worked as a nurse to support her large family, always stressing the importance of education to her children. Parkinson took his mother's encouragement to heart; he was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning an English degree from Bradley University while on a full scholarship as an Illinois State Scholar. He then attended law school at John Marshall, marrying and having his first child while still a One L. For the next three years, Parkinson worked as a polygraph examiner by day and attended law school at night. He received his J.D. from John Marshall in 1971.
With the luck of the Irish, the 26-year-old Parkinson landed a job fresh out of law school as the Morgan County State's Attorney. In the fall of 1971 he was appointed to fill a vacancy in that office and was subsequently elected to serve three additional terms. Tempted into private practice during his last term, he went to work for a law firm before eventually going solo. But, since he seldom believed his clients were innocent, Parkinson could not put his heart into criminal defense work. When presented with an offer to join the Illinois Department of Conservation as Chief Legal Counsel in 1987, he gladly returned to public service. Parkinson remained with the conservation department until he was asked to join SAAP as a Special Prosecutor in December of 1994.
Parkinson relishes his current role of "going after the bad guys." As a prosecutor, he has the power to bring criminals to justice, as well as to exercise the authority to dismiss cases. He likes assisting young professionals and having State's Attorneys throughout Illinois call on him personally for support on difficult cases. But Parkinson finds the most satisfactory part of his job is putting murderers in prison for life. He thrives on presenting evidence in the courtroom, likening the experience to the thrill of a theatrical performance. Parkinson does acknowledge a downside to his job, however. He dreads seeing the suffering families of victims must endure when forced to relive their traumas during trial, especially in cases involving murder or sexual assault on children. But he perseveres through these unpleasant duties by focusing on the end result of obtaining justice for the victims in order to ease their families' pain.
Since Parkinson is often involved in high-profile murder cases, he was intimately acquainted with many of those granted clemency when former Governor Ryan emptied Illinois' Death Row. When asked his opinion on Ryan's mass commutation of death penalty sentences to life terms in prison, Parkinson summed up his feelings in one word: "Wrong." When pressed further, he elaborated that Ryan's actions were wide of the mark because the blanket clemency did not take into consideration the individual facts of each case. But Parkinson has not let Ryan's actions deter him from continuing to seek the death penalty; his recent success in obtaining a death sentence for Mertz is only the first of his efforts to repopulate Death Row. Parkinson intends to return serial killer Andrew Urdiales to his cell there by seeking the death penalty when he prosecutes him for additional murders.
Parkinson's cases often place him in the media's eye. He is currently working on the prosecution of Amanda Hamm and Maurice Lagrone Jr. for the drowning deaths of Hamm's three children at Clinton Lake. Parkinson was called in as a Special Prosecutor since Hamm's mother works for the DeWitt County State's Attorney's office, creating a conflict of interest. The case has drawn nationwide attention due to the nature of the crime, as well as local scrutiny over the estimated $1 million tab the county will have to pick up for expenses involved in both prosecuting and defending Hamm and Lagrone. Despite working on difficult cases involving violent criminals, Parkinson shrugs off the dangers of his job. Although he routinely prosecutes murderers and drug dealers, he feels that his job is much safer than that of a divorce attorney. For the most part, he believes that criminals expect to be brought to justice and therefore do not hold any personal grudges against him for doing his job. When he was the Morgan County State's Attorney, he often encountered offenders he had prosecuted in the community without incident. Occasionally, he has even had released offenders buy him a beer.
Parkinson has three grown children, a son and two daughters, and four grandchildren (with two more expected soon). Belying his stern prosecutorial persona, his eyes light up at the mention of his grandchildren and he proudly shows off their pictures which are sprinkled throughout his office. When he can spare time away from his job, he enjoys traveling and "eating well." He and his wife Paula enjoy vacationing at the ocean and touring local mansions on their domestic excursions. They also play golf together, although he admits to being too competitive on the greens, and says she only plays occasionally to appease him. Parkinson also likes to read, but he confesses a dislike for the tedium of reading the fine print in law books, instead preferring an eclectic mix of recreational reading ranging from murder mysteries to Shakespeare. His taste in television reflects his profession; he likes watching true-to-life legal dramas such as "Law and Order."
When asked what path he would have chosen had he not entered the legal profession, Parkinson revealed a passion for sports. He would have liked to have been either a coach or a sportscaster, calling basketball play-by-play. But perhaps his true calling in life should have been the stage. Parkinson once took his daughter to audition for a part in Annie with the Jacksonville Theatre Guild and, to bolster her courage, he also decided to try out. With no prior acting experience and no preparation for the audition, Parkinson walked away with the male lead as Daddy Warbucks! In addition to acting, the part also called for him to sing six songs. Although he protests there will not be any more curtain calls in his future, you never can tell. I wouldn't bet my bottom dollar you couldn't get another "Tomorrow" out of Ed Parkinson.
*Kelly Wingard is a graduate student in the Legal Studies program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.